AFRICAN COMPETITORS IN THE WINTER OLYMPICS

Mialitiana Clerc of Team Madagascar skis during the Women's Slalom... News  Photo - Getty Images

 

The African continent is not generally thought of as having winter snow sports; however, African athletes have again contributed to this year’s Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China, having also competed in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang in South Korea when eight African countries took part.

At this year’s games Africa is represented by six athletes from five African countries, namely Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco and Nigeria, five competing in the Alpine downhill event and one competing in cross-country skiing.

 

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African athletes are not likely to win any medals as the competition from athletes in countries where winter snow sports are prevalent is obviously intense.  But the Games are not only about winning; they are also about participating in world events, comradery, and sportsmanship. The Winter Olympics differ drastically from the Summer Olympics where African competitors do very well in the middle- and long-distance running events. In these Summer Olympic events Africa has won over 400 medals, whereas they are unlikely to win in snow events as African countries lack a winter sports climate.

 

Some African competitors have parents who left Africa to live in the Northern Hemisphere for various reasons but who have now returned to Africa to represent their birth countries. An example is Sabrina Simader from Kenya who competed in the women’s slalom in St Moritz, Switzerland in 2017 at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.

 

South Africa was the first African country to participate in the Winter Olympics which were held in Squaw Valley, USA in 1960. They were then barred from future games due to the political climate at that time but were allowed to return to the Winter games in Lillehammer Norway in 1994. At the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France, Morocco became the second participating African country in Alpine skiing with a four-man team but then they were barred for political reasons until their return in 1984 at the Sarajevo Games in Yugoslavia. At these Games Senegal joined the African competitors and over the next 26 years the Senegalese athletes participated in five different Winter Games.

 

Other African countries include Algeria who competed in 1992, 2006 and 2010 although they did not achieve any significant results. Madagascar competed in 2006, 2018 and currently this year where Alpine skier Mialitiana Clerc is their sole representative as a female African athlete.

 

Many African countries send only one athlete to enter these prestigious events. An example is Kenya who entered all four Winter Games between 1998 and 2018. Cross-country skier Philip Boit was their sole representative in 1998, 2002, and 2006.  Ghana sent one athlete to both the 2010 Games in Vancouver and also the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea – the 2010 athlete was Alpine skier Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong and the 2018 competitor was skeleton sledder Akwasi Frimpong. Togo made a maiden appearance in 2014 in Sochi, Russia with tow female athletes, cross-country skier Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean and Alpine skier Alessia Afi Dipol. Ethiopia’s sole athlete was cross-country skier Robel Teklemariam at the 2006 Turin Games and the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Egypt, Swaziland (now called Eswatini), Cameroon and Zimbabwe have all had a once only appearance in the Winter Games.

 

For a continent that does not feature many, if any, snow sporting events mainly due to lack of a winter snow climate, it is to Africa’s credit that at least one African country has attended each of the Winter Olympics since 1984, and hopefully within the next few years there will be many more participants.

 

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